Rev. 20:15 – And anyone not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire. (HCSB)
Anyone not found
John concludes this section with the words, “And anyone not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire” (v. 15).
As the wicked pass through the gates of hell in Dante’s epic poem Inferno, they are greeted with these words: “Abandon hope, all you who enter here.” These words remind the damned that once inside, there is no escape from the fiery torments they have brought upon themselves.
As Charles Swindoll writes, “Though the details of Dante’s fictional picture of heaven, hell, and purgatory range from the fantastic to the heretical, he was right about this: the final destination of the wicked features a one-way entrance. All hope vanishes beyond; there will be no escape from the lake of fire…. The facts of eternal punishment are set forth without a hint of hope … because no hope exists apart from God” (Insights on Revelation, pp. 266-67).
Books are opened at the great white throne, and the wicked find their names there, along with details of their lives – perhaps even a full accounting of their deeds. Some may wish to be excluded from God’s record of their thoughts, words, and actions, for their lives are laden with every sort of evil. They stand before their Creator – who has revealed Himself in creation, conscience, Christ and Canon – with no excuse (Rom. 1:20). They have turned up their noses at God’s revealed love and turned their backs on His grace. And now they are reminded of every idle word, every selfish deed, every squandered opportunity as the evidence written in the books piles so high and wide it becomes like prison walls that cannot be scaled.
Depart from Me
Some may argue, “Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in Your name, drive out demons in Your name, and do many miracles in Your name?” They are convinced there must be some mistake, but Jesus does not mince His words, saying, “I never knew you! Depart from Me, you lawbreakers!” (Matt. 7:22-23). Most of the wicked, however, it seems, stand speechless before the great white throne and listen as the damning evidence of their godless lives is used to separate them, like tares and worthless fish, from the righteous.
But there is one book on whose pages the wicked long eternally to see their names written: the book of life. Its pages list no good deeds, no legacy of charitable acts, no meritorious service worthy of everlasting life. So it seems there is no reason the names of the wicked are excluded. If they could scour the pages they would see the names of people great and small – leaders, foot soldiers, neighbors, family members.
To the mind of the damned, the listing makes no sense. There is ample room in the book for every person’s name, and yet their names are missing. Why? An entry in this book is not achieved through human effort but through simple surrender. Those written in the book of life have washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb, and He has written their names with His own blood. Those who would not have the Lamb will not have life. They are thrown into the lake of fire. The difference is that the wicked have pleaded their own righteousness while the righteous have pleaded the blood of the Lamb.
John MacArthur describes the seriousness of this moment: “The accused, all the unsaved who have ever lived, will be resurrected to experience a trial like no other that has ever been. There will be no debate over their guilt or innocence. There will be a prosecutor, but no defender; an accuser but no advocate. There will be an indictment, but no defense mounted by the accused; the convicting evidence will be presented with no rebuttal or cross-examination. There will be an utterly unsympathetic Judge and no jury, and there will be no appeal of the sentence He pronounces. The guilty will be punished eternally with no possibility of parole in a prison from which there is no escape” (Revelation 12-22, MacArthur New Testament Commentary, pp. 245-46).
Three views of the great white throne
Let’s summarize the views of pre-, post-, and amillennialists with respect to the great white throne:
Premillennialists believe the great white throne judgment takes place after a literal 1,000 years (the millennium) during which Christ reigns on earth. The wicked stand in final judgment before the great white throne as books are opened. They are given varying degrees of punishment based on their works, yet all of the wicked are cast into hell because their names are not found written in the book of life; that is, their works are insufficient to pay their sin debt, and they have rejected God’s offer of forgiveness through faith in His Son.
Postmillennialists believe the final judgment of all people takes place at the coming of Christ at the end of the world. The glorious age prior to the Second Coming, in which the gospel enjoys widespread positive impact, ends with Satan’s brief and unsuccessful revolt. At the return of Jesus, Satan and his confederates – Death and Hades – are cast into the lake of fire, and then all people – evil and good – are resurrected and summoned before the great white throne. Postmillennialists believe the Bible affirms that the righteous and the wicked are resurrected at the same time (John 5:28-29; Acts 24:15) and face judgment on the same occasion (Matt. 16:27; 25:31ff; Rom. 2:5-10).
Amillennialists see the 1,000 years as symbolic of a lengthy, indeterminate period of time corresponding to the present church age. Satan is loosed briefly near the end of the age to foment evil and persecute the church. The fire coming down from heaven and consuming the wicked (Rev. 20:9) is symbolic of Christ’s return in power and glory, which is followed by general resurrection and final judgment of all people. The great white throne judgment is not separate from other final judgments but simply a description of the throne’s color, depicting the purity of the One seated on the throne and the holiness of His judgments. The presence of the book of life suggests that the righteous are there, as opposed to the wicked whose names are not found in the book of life.
Next: A new heaven and a new earth – Revelation 21:1